Monday, October 24, 2005
Gunter Grass (1927 -) The Tin Drum (1959) bk 7 "The Wide Skirt"
This weekend was the Surrey International Writer's Conference (www.siwc.com) and I was a volunteer (mainly because, being a poor full-time writer I can never afford to attend it otherwise.) I was thrilled with the jobs I was given: to introduce several of the authors and agents for their workshops. I was also able to attend a few of the workshops where I was either a door monitor or just sitting in. I made a lot of notes, and will include them here to share the information with you other writers who sometimes visit my blog site.
I introduced Deirdre Knight of the Knight Agency. This is what she had to say about the Author/Agent Relationship:
There will be several good agents, so start with the right person. Keep a good personality fit. You want someone who likes the full scope of what you are doing. Agents are the managers of your careers. Regarding blogs: Blogs help you equip yourself better.
I monitored and sat in on an exception lecture by Michael Slade, crime/suspense writer. Interestingly, this is his pen name. He also co-writes with his daughter. He used to be a lawyer and is a dynamic speaker as well as a high-impact writer!
Suspense - How to Avoid the Mistakes that Break It:
Keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Start with action, explain later. Hook the reader with the first line. Every chapter ends with a hook too. Write the last sentence in the book before you write the first one. Then you know where the payoff goes and the plot will all move to this point.Make it tough for your hero. Give him a worthy villain.
I introduced a B.C. author who writes Memoirs. This is what Luanne Armstrong had to say:
Memoirs are a best-selling genre these days. You can make a brilliant story out of ordinary life. ("Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard was an example of this.Attention to details is important in a memoir. Involve the reader. Turn the focus on to ordinary things. The memorist's job is to get under the story: What happened? Why? Ask yourself "What is the story beneath your story?"
At the workshop for "Why Anne Boleyn is the Poster Girl for Historical Fiction" I introduced agent Irene Goodman. She told us:
The story must capture the imagination of the reader. Write with authenticity. Write what comes from the deepest part of you.The time for historical fiction has never been better than now. Her agency looks for stories with strong, interesting women heroines drawn from real historical characters. (The agency also handles other genres.)
It was quite a thrill for me to be chosen as the introducers for three best-selling authors:
Jean Auel, Diana Gabaldon and Terry Brooks for the workshop: "Worlds that Were and Worlds that Used to Be" This was a panel discussion with a lot of input from the audience. Here's some of the comments the authors made:
Terry Brooks, author of the best-selling Magic Kingdom series -- "The Sword of Shannara" etc.On World-building: It has to resonate in a way to make sense. There must be a level of believablity - a willing suspension of disbelief. He says he outlines everything but doesn't necessarily do a lot of research.
Jean Auel ("The Earth's Children" series, most notably "Clan of the Cave Bear") says she starts with a story idea, researching and makes lots of notes, and then makes a bare outline. She is still using the origianal draft of "Clan of the Cave Bear" to build on her newest novel in the series (book six).
Diana Gabaldon, author of the best-selling "Outlander" series, warns that researching can be a pitfall for historical writers. (Be careful you aren't just researching and not writing!) Research and writing feed off each other. Interesting pieces of information can trigger plot ideas. She writes in bits and pieces (randomly) rather than in a linear way.
They all said: Keep working at something! You need to keep writing! Trust your instincts!
Both Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte, a B.C. writer, are very popular presenters at the Surrey Conference. I was pleased to be able to introduce Jack Whyte for his interesting workshop on
Jack Whyte has a series of books about the Arthurian legends and Roman Britain and is currently writing a series on the Knights Templar. One thing he emphasized was: Don't over-describe. Description is crucially important. Set the scene and describe what is visually relevant. In "telling" you have to "show" Don't use complicated words. Keep it simple. Don't give too much detail. Leave something to the reader's own imagination.
I also attended a workshop on Blogging: A Writer's Tool by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor.
Blogging helps you break out of writer's block. It keeps you in touch with other writers and puts your words out there. She says she always replies to comments on her blog site!
I sat in on two workshops with author Jessica Morrell. One was "Nail the Ending" in which she pointed out:
The final lines are important. Make your ending satisfying to the reader. Spectacular endings may seem false. Keep your work true to itself.
In the lecture : "Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches -- Bad Guys in Fiction" she suggested:
Work on the back story of the antagonist or villain. Create a plot so the secrets of the back story come up toward the end of the story. She went over the various types of antagonists and their personality flaws, traits etc. She said an unlikeable antagonist is difficult to pull off and has to have an extreme personality. (such as Don Corlioni). Anti Heros are somewhere between villain and protagonist and often seen as an outsider. (Willie Loman). Is he redeemable?Multiple point of view works best when you have unlikable protagonists in your story. The come-uppance in your story can't be contrived. Usually the unlikable character brings himself /herself down. Show your characters are like us, not unlike us, by presenting their back-story. Where did they go wrong? What made them into the kind of person they are now?
I found this workshop relevant to my own novel in that I have a multiple point of view with many of the historical characters portrayed as anti-heros - and one distinct villain! In fact, I created a couple of fictional 'heros' for my novel because so many of the key players in the fall of Alexander's dynasty were anti-heros or antagonists. This particular lecture also gave me some good insights and ideas for strengthening the real heros of my novel. I have also built up the characters of several of the women involved because historians gave them bad press and in researching their lives I realized what strong women they really were. In fact, there's a couple of them who deserve books of their own!
It was a great conference and I was so glad I was able to participate, although it would have been even more excellent had we been invited into the lunches (especially the genre lunch) and dinners. We did manage to schmooze a ticket for the Saturday dinner with the keynote speaker award winning author Jennifer Cruisie. And on Sunday we sat in on the keynote address by Diana Gabaldon who is a delightful person. I came home yesterday (Sunday) totally exhausted, my head full of ideas, burning with inspiration. So this week I am determine to focus entirely on my novel writing, although I'm happy to learn the teacher's strike is over so my night-school classes will resume this week too. Lots to write. So little time! Better get to work right now!
"Really, the writer doesn't want success. He knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall - 'Kilroy Was Here' - that somebody a hundred, or a thousand years later will see."
William Faulkner (1897-1962) From "Faulkner in the University (1959) session 8
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Lawrence George Durrell (1912-1990) "Justine" (1957) pt.1
It was April 331 BC when Alexander founded the city still named after him. It is said that he wanted the city he built to be a port and one night he dreamed that he saw a grey-haired man standing reciting those lines from 'The Odyssey': "Out of the tossing sea, where it breaks on the Egyptian beaches, Rises an island from the water and the name men give it is Pharos.'
Alexander woke the next morning and went to the lighthouse known as Pharos and saw the perfect site for his city. "Mark it out," he ordered the architects. They had no chalk so they took barley meal, marked out a semi-circle on the dark earth and also marked the outlines of the city and the plan of the street in grids. The street plan of Alexandria is much the same today." Nick McCarty "Alexander the Great"
Of all the places where I have visited while researching my novel "Shadow of the Lion", I have never visited Alexandria Egypt. It definitely ranks high on my 'to go' list, but I've not been able to afford the trip although ten years or so ago when I did have a windfall of money I probably should have gone, but didn't. I've visited Alexandria (the ancient city) several times in my mind though. And this past week I've been there again, with Ptolemy, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty, and so I'll take you there with me, dear readers, on a time-travel to that magnificent jewel of the Nile that was built from Alexander's dream.
Our first visit is in 322 BC not long after Alexander's death.
From the terrace of his elegant house in Alexandria, Ptolemy surveyed the long lines of straight streets and public buildings, their gilded pastel facades gleaming with new paint. A thermal sirocco dragged across the red desert sands to fan the arid afternoon air. Without it, the Egyptian summer would be unbearable.
Beyond the terra-cotta rooftops, the aquamarine sea curdled with froth. In the harbour, where a fleet of sleek, curve-prowed merchants ships unloaded grain and produce from the north, Ptolemy sighted a crew of workmen hauling stones to build the causeway that would connect the off-shore island to the main city.
He thought of Homer's words as Alexander had quoted them when his feet first touched Egytpian soil. "An island lies within sounding surf--an island Pharos, on the Egyptian shore."
Ten years had passed since they had strode this site together planning with the architects and engineers where Alexander would build his new city. Now it was prospering, just as the prophets had predicted it would.
The torrid breath of the sirocco shifted through the palm trees in the courtyard. In the distance, over the delta, green with life drawn fro the ceaslessly flowing Nile, the gulls soared, wheeling against the wind.
It was Alexander's wish to be buried here in Egypt, he thought. They had discussed it some time after their visit to Siwah, where Alexander had met with the priests of Ammon-Ra. Something they had said convinced him of his divinity.
Ptolemy turned into the refreshing sanctuary of his study and took a page of papyrus to his writing table. He must record everything now, w hile his memory of it was still keen, the details vivid in his mind.
We return to Alexandria again in the Spring of 320 BC. Acting on Alexander's wishes, Ptolemy had hijacked the funeral carriage that was taking Alexander's body from Babylon to be interred in the royal tombs at Aigai in Macedonia. Now Perdikkas, commander-in-chief of the Macedonian army, has chased him back to Egypt and declared war in the attempt to retrieve the body.
The windows of Ptolemy's study faced a view of the sea where he could watch ships enter the wide curve of Alexandria's harbour. Today a fleet of triremes was anchored off the mole, their bright standards fluttering from the masts, oars resting high out of the water. He could just make out the stevedores who scrambled among the bales of cargo, and the bright glint of soldier's armour. The triremes were warships which he had inherited from Alexander's fleet. He had called them to Alexandria when the mounted scouts informed him that Perdikkas' army was advancing toward the Nile Delta.
He turned from the window and went to stand beside his huge writing-desk which was piled high with scorlls and papyrus -- petitions and state documents from his day's work. That morning, before coming to his study, he had spent some time at the sea flats supervising the drills of his new cavalry squadrons. When he left Babylonia two years ago, Perdikkas had only allowed him two thousand men, and with the threat of an encounter looming he had been forced to appeal for new conscripts. The response had astonished him. Not only did young men willingly answer his call, but thousands of retired veterans came, leaving their comfortable new homes, begging to reenlist and resume their former commissions. Within weeks, the army had swelled to ten thousand, adequate in numbers to meet the troops of the Grand Chiliarch. Ptolemy's ships too, far outnumbered those of Perdikkas' fleet.
He sat at his desk on the big chair with the sphynx-headed arms and began to sift through the tablets and scrolls. He must study the plans fo the new library that Dinocrates, the architect, had brought him that afternoon. As the foundations were already laid, it would be unfortunate to halt its construction. Dinocrates had suggested they should keep the Egyptian workmen busy erecting the lime-stone walls, even though all the able-bodied Greeks, Macedonians, Libyans and Kyrenians had been conscripted into the army. The confrontation with Perdikkas must be solved quickly so as not to hinder progress of the building of Alexander's new city.
Now it is Winter, 319 BC. Ptolemy has received a request from Kassandros, commander of the Macedonian army, to send him some ships. He claims that Polyperchon, the Regent of Macedon is planning to march on Greece. Kassandros wants to overthrow Polyperchon. Ptolemy respects the Regent, but knows that Polyperchon is incomeptant. He is also bound by his marriage to Kassandros' sister, to honour the request. Faced with this difficult dilemma he visits Alexander's tomb.
As was his daily habit, he left the palace, escorted by his personal guard, and walked down the broad avenue of the Canopic Way that led to Alexander's tomb where he would offer prayers and sacrifices. He usually visited the tomb early each morning, but today the arrival of Kassandros' letter had upset his routine. He walked briskly despite the mid-afternoon heat. In the morning, the street was usually bustling with crowds but at this time of day it was deserted.
The street was bordered with wide colonnades of gleaming white marble. It ran the length of the city to the sacred site where Alexander's body was enshrined in the temple he'd had built for Hephaestion. The tomb sat at the crossroads of Canopic Way and the Soma that ran from the south shore of Lake Mareotis to the sea. Spread out around it, Alexander's city sparkled, a pristine vision of white against the brilliant turquoise of the Mediterranean.
Ahead, Ptolemy could see the beacon that burned on the temple roof, sacred fire brought from Persia signifying the immortality of the king. In front of the entrance the golden flagstaffs with their starburst emblems of Macedon stirred in the light breeze. Everyone who came to Alexandria stopped to pay obeisance at Alexander's tomb and he noted, with a sense of relief, the absence of pilgrims at the sacred site this day.
Ptolemy offers incense and invokes the power of the gods: Oserapis, protector of Alexandria; Zeus, God the Father; Ammon-Ra the All-Powerful; and Alexander, born of the horned serpent, beloved of Ammon, son of Ra. Then he goes inside the cold, silent crypt.
Around the alabaster sarcophagus lighted candles burned flickering like tiny stars. Under it's shield of transparent blown glass, the body of Alexander lay, dressed in a polished breastplate, his hands crossed over his breast. The flesh of his face was sunken and taut over the strong bones, the familiar features rigid as a statue, no longer animated. Yet his lion's mane of hair was still crisp and bright as gold. The embalmers had preserved him well. Death had made him immortal.
Ptolemy placed both his hands on the sarcophagus. Leaning over it, he spoke directly to Alexander as he would have in life.
"You were invincible, Alexander, so you made us feel invincible," he said. "You had the knack of making everything seem possible, so we did the imposslbe. When you died, Alexander, so did that magic that had so captivated us and we became ordinary men, with unexceptional limits. Look down on us now, Alexander. We are the survivors of your Empire. Help us. Do not let your accomplishments be destroyed by corruption and greed. Show me what I must do or your kingdom will be devoured by the vultures who once called you friend and supreme leader. Give me your strength, Alexander."
He had risked everything, even his own life, when he had waylaid Alexander's funeral bier and brought Alexander's corpse to Alexandria. He had meant to take it to the bural place at Siwah, but it had proved impossible to make the arduous journey across the desert, so he had kept it here in Hephaestion's temple. The ransomed body was the symbol of almighty power. How long would it be before one of the Successors would try to steal it away?
I'll be returning to Alexandria a few more times in the future. Ptolemy is the lynch-pin of my novel, beginning with the Prologue and ending with the Epilogue. So perhaps you'll meet him again and together we'll take you on an other visit to his Alexandria.
"His (the poet's) function is to make his imagination theirs (the people's) and he fulfills himself only as he sees his imagination become the light in the mind of others."
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) "The Necessary Angel" (1951)
Friday, October 14, 2005
Some days must be dark and dreary."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) The Rainy Day (1842) st. 3
It's true. Life isn't always a bed of roses, though mostly I try to keep my little garden blooming and gay. However lately there have been some ups and downs and a few set-backs. And some days I simply haven't had the heart to write. In fact, this week, on top of other things, I came down with a bad flu and was laid up for a couple of days, an usual thing for me.
It seems just when things get back on track, something happens to throw a wrench into the works. In this case, it's the teacher's strike which has caused my night school classes to be cancelled. Of course, because I was sick this week I would have had to cancel anyway, but I'm worried now that this strike will go on and next week's classes will be cancelled too, thereby totally screwing up my finances once again. I'm already on poverty rations for the next week and it's likely to get worse. You just can't win! (The strike, I must add, is totally justified, and although our totalitarian provincial government has declared the strike 'illegal', the teachers are determined to stay out. ) I know things will even out in the end as they'll extend the classes to cover the full 8 weeks, but who knows when this will be settled? Frustrating, indeed!
The other thing weighing heavily on my mind these days is my friend's illness. Since he came home last weekend he seemed on a steady decline into despair. I realize now he likely had the flu virus too and fortunately today when I passed by I was informed he was much better. There have been some positive doctor's reports, he's been up and around and at last, friends are starting to drop by to see him. Still, it has been such a sad thing to see this man who is an intellectual with such a passion for life being so brought down by this cancer and, in the past week reduced to sitting zombie-like in front of the TV depressed, sick and bewildered by all that is going on.
I went out today, the first time since earlier in the week, and met up with a couple of nice guy friends, had some pleasant chats, sat awhile my favorite Italian coffee shop listening to uplifting Italian music. On the way home I stopped by to see A. and was so pleased to hear the news. That certainly brightened what has been a rather bleak week.
Still, there are events coming up that will make up for these periods of 'down'. Yesterday I got the program for volunteers for the Surrey International Writer's Conference that will take place here next week. (check the website at www.siwc.com ) I was thrilled to find out I've been chosen to introduce some of the authors who are presenting workshops. These include well-known best-selling authors Diana Gabaldon, Jean Auel, Terry Brooks, and Jack Whyte, a couple of agents and a local author specializing in Memoirs. Wow! I was quite taken aback by this assignment. I spent some time yesterday writing up my intros. It happens I can't usually afford to attend the Conference so this year I volunteered for all three days and this is a special bonus and certainly an honour.
I've found the best way to cope with the down side of things is to have lots of 'ups' to balance the 'downs' and tomorrow night is a big Libra Bash with three bands, including my son's Westcoast Blues Review (see their website at http://members.shaw.ca/westcoastblues )
My Havana Buddy and I got on the guest list, he because he's a radio guy and plays the band's music on his shows and me because I'm Steve's mom, the band's main groupie.
Tonight I'm heading for my favorite bistro for a bit of salsa dancing. I'm also on mission to alert some of A's friends that he really needs some music therapy and cheering up. And I just had a call from another of my good friends who wants to drop by Sunday eve to watch some videos.
That takes care of the weekend. Now, if only that strike would end!
"What's the use? Yesterday an egg, tomorrow a feather duster."
Mark Fenderson (1873-1944) Caption for cartoon "The Dejected Rooster."
"Keep your sunny side up."
Buddy (George Gard) De Sylva (1895-1950) "Sunny Side Up" (1929) title song.
Monday, October 10, 2005
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Insolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stories that cannot be deciphered."
Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888-1965 "Four Quartets. East Cober" 1940 stanza V
Last week my Memoir group had an assignment to write a piece titled "Can You Go Home?"
It was interesting to hear what people wrote and since then I've been giving a great deal of thought to this subject. I began to review all the 'homes' that I have lived in, considering which one I thought of as really 'home'. As I've moved around a great deal, it was a difficult choice.
My earliest memories of 'home' are from when I was five. We lived in a little railway town at the border of Alberta/Saskachewan called Lloyminster. During the early '60's when my husband and I moved to Alberta, when my Dad came to visit we drove to Lloyminster, the first time Dad and I had ever returned there. His old church was still there, as was the house next door where we lived. But everything seemed much smaller to me than what I'd remembered as a kid.
The next real 'home' I often think of was in Stratford Ontario when we lived at Grandpa's house during the war when my Dad was serving overseas as a chaplain in an army field hospital. Grandpa had bought that house when it was 100 years old and renovated it, and when Mom and my little sister and I moved in he'd made the upstairs into a private suite for us. I loved that old house and went back there in the early 60's for a visit. My little Grandma (Grandpa's second wife) was still living in the house and it was exactly as I remembered it. But I wonder if it's still standing. Doubtful, as it was already such an old house and I would think it has been torn down to make way for something modern.
After we moved from Stratford, we came here to the West Coast where my Dad was pastor of a church that happens to be in the district I live in now. We didn't live close to the church but our lovely old house is near enough that sometimes I go by there to take a look. It's still the same as it was then and I feel sure my parent's spirits are there. It was a two-story white frame house and I had a bedroom upstairs where I spent many hours at my desk typing stories on an old Underwood typewriter. I guess that is the house where my dreams of becoming a writer really took shape.
Later, when I was married, my family and I moved to Edmonton Alberta. Those days in our brand new house in suburbia have unhappy memories for me so I've only gone back once and haven't had a desire to return. In between then and now have been a couple of other houses, one was my dream home which I lost due to the tragedy of my husband's alcholism. The next was a marvelous old house known as "The Opium Palace" where I learned to survive on a shoe-string with my two kids and house full of free spirits who included my best friend Suzaki, a couple of American army deserters and several hippies. I have enough stories to write a book about that house as well as the infamous Hazel Street House where we lived for several years.
Next I moved to a wonderful old Victorian house which happened to be one of the first houses built in the city. During the late 60's and early 70's it had been known as "The Acid Kool-Aid House". By the time I moved in to the top floor it was due for demolition. I fixed it all up and it was by far one of the best places I've ever lived. I stayed there for a couple of years until I decided to move to Greece. After that the house was torn down to make way for a rather ugly condo.
In Greece, which is also my home, I shared a courtyard and lived in a basement suite on Odos Vironos (Byron's Street). I still pass by there every time I'm Athens, and stop to look through the gate into the courtyard. That home also is full of stories waiting to be told.
Besides the house on Vironos St., I had a little shepherd's cottage up on the mountain in Evvia in a tiny hamlet called Lala. This was my Garden of Eden, the place I dream about and astral-travel to. But since my shepherd died three years ago, some of the magic has left the village so it is painful to return. For sure, this year I found I couldn't go home to Lala. I wonder if I ever will again.
At the present time I'm living in an apartment in a building where I've lived (except for 1 year) since 1993. I've had various suites in the building and the one I have now is probably the best one. For that one year, when I chose to move to a larger apartment to share with a friend, I was so homesick for this building that as soon as I was able I came back here to live. So I guess you can say I did come 'home' and this is where I hope to stay for awhile.
My friend A. is home from the hospital now. It's a difficult adjustment for him but hopefully he will soon feel better about being home in his own apartment, with his family and friends around him. The wish is that he will recover enough to make a journey to Chile to see his family. He has lived here as an exile for many years and I know he longs to return home.
Home really is where your heart is.
"Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd
As home his footsepts he hath turn'd"
Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" V1, st1
Monday, October 03, 2005
Gustave Flaubert 1821 - 1880 "Madame Bovary" 1857 pt. ll ch.5
Although I desperately wanted to get back to my writing yesterday, I found myself instead cleaning up the clutter that has gathered this past week in my apartment. I find it difficult to concentrate when there is a lot of junk lying around. In this case it was the suitcases I keep my winter clothes in. Time to sort out the closets and chuck out the stuff I'm not using. This always creates a dilemma for me. Why do I feel inclined to hang on to those old souvenier T-shirts that I bought long ago in Greece? Or the clothes that are too small or so very old. Yet at the moment, if I throw away too many things my closets will be empty and I will be naked. I can't afford to toss everything away until I buy some new replacements. At any rate, by the time I sorted things out my room is a lot tidier and so are my drawers and closets.
Same thing somehow with my writing. Last night I took out my whole manuscript and started checking through it to see which pages and chapters my character PTOLEMY is actively participating in or at least mentioned. As he's a 'thread' thoughout the story, it's important to keep him woven into the text. Lo and behold! I discovered that though he is featured a lot in Part I and some of Part II, he is only mentioned in one place in Part III, which means I need to write in at least one scene with him actively involved in the plot. No big deal, because while thumbing through this massive piece of work, I realize there are many passages that will have to go. Just like cleaning the closet you have to go through the unnecessary scenes in a novel to tighten it up and make it sparkling and fresh. So I'm not too dismayed about writing more of Ptolemy into the story. After all, he's a major character in Alexander's life and as he begins and ends the novel (Prologue and Epilogue) he deserves a larger role in the whole picture.
At the moment I've been working on an "Epitasis" (Interlude) chapter for Part IV in which I return to Alexandria, Egypt and Ptolemy. This is why I decided to look through the manuscript to find the places where he is featured. This included a couple of scenes also set in Alexandria, so it was rather fun returning there. And I happen to be rather fond of Ptolemy as a character too, so it's nice to get reaquainted with him.
Hopefully by tomorrow, between hospital visits and writer's meetings and other things I have in my daily life, I will get back to the novel. And when I do, I'll take you there with me, on a little visit to Alexandria, as it was back in 318 BC when Ptolemy was overseeing the building of the new city, as Alexander had wanted it. See you there...soon!
"Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday
We had daily cleaning..." Henry Reed 1914 -